Tag Archives: sewing

Fabric Sculpture.

Having grown up in the woods of Connecticut, bird stories in my family abound.  There was once a woodpecker that confused my grandparent’s aluminum siding with wood, and hammered away at it (loudly) every morning at dawn for weeks.  There was a saw whet owl that, one winter, perched in an evergreen outside my mother’s bathroom window, hooting for his mate.  We all hoped he’d return.  And my grandmother, lover of hummingbirds, did everything in her power to lull them into her yard.  She planted gladiolas and electric begonias.  She filled red feeders with nectar.  She carved out small spaces for them to hover and drink.

Glassenberg, Abigail Patner.The Artful Bird cover
The Artful Bird:
Feathered Friends to Make and Sew.
Illustrated. 159pp. Interweave Press, 2010, $24.99.
ISBN: 1596682388
ISBN 13: 978-1596682382
745.592-G464a

For years I’ve been meaning to try fabric sculpture, so I was thrilled to see that The Artful Bird featured a perched woodpecker, and an expressive owl.  I was hoping to find a hummingbird pattern as well, but as I fast discovered, sewing tiny pieces of fabric together isn’t easy, and sewing a hummingbird would require magnifying glasses and immeasurable patience.

Abby’s book covers the depth of materials, tools, and instructions needed to create the birds in her book, as well as any bird pattern that you wish to create yourself.  There are 40 bird projects and patterns, plus a gallery of guest artists, a stitch guide, and a resources section for finding specialty tools, stuffing, tapes, and wire.

Even though I have a queue of bird project possibilities, I spotted Abby’s penguin pattern and knew that it would be my first art bird.  I appreciate starting with the penguin for two main reasons: 1). The color palette was simple.  2). I know someone who loves and collects penguins, and I pour everything into a project when I know it has a recipient.  I went to my local crafter’s reuse facility, SCRAP, and dug around for black, white, grey, and yellow fabric.  For this project, I enjoy relying on the spontaneity of what might be found at SCRAP instead of purchasing new materials.

IMG_2629 copy

one of two aisles of fabric at SCRAP.

The pattern pieces for all the birds in the book aren’t large, so many small scraps will do, and—bonus—you needn’t worry about fabric grain because Abby promises that grain variety only adds to the individuality and character of each bird.

I washed and pressed all my chosen fabrics.  I traced the photocopy pattern onto freezer paper with a sheet of blue carbon paper in between; this wasn’t the best idea since the carbon tends to smudge a bit, and rubbed off onto the white fabric I had found.  I had a small hiccup when I realized one part of the bird needed to be enlarged–my own oversight.  I used Photoshop to enlarge to the proper proportion, and re-cut my piece.  This wasn’t difficult, but it would have been easier while I was standing at a copy machine.

Cutting, pinning, and sewing the body was straightforward, and I followed Abby’s directions throughout.  I referred back to the Basic Birdmaking Techniques, especially with the neck, where I struggled to get my seams smooth.

IMG_2681 copy

I thought I had selected thick white fabric for the penguin’s belly, but the inside edges are somewhat visible once the bird was fully stuffed.  Speaking of stuffing, next time I will certainly source Abby’s recommended wool stuffing.  I used the polyfill that you can find nearly everywhere, but it is slippery, hard to pack in, and its micro-threads popped through the fabric of the bird.  I have gone over it several times with a lint roller, and a pill remover with only passable results.  It’s also really easy to puncture through your stitches when stuffing the bird. I reinforced a couple spots along the way, and I did have to close a gap at the top of the head to smooth out a buckle.

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The feet were my big challenge.  In my stubborn, use-what-I-have mentality, I made the whole bending-of-feet part very difficult on myself.  Abby’s instructions are clear, easy to follow, and make sense.  She recommends 16-gauge brass wire.  Well, I had 22-gauge silver wire, which was too light weight, and I had 12-gauge wire that is made for rewiring your “wireless” cable system, or something.  What can I say?  It was in the garage, and it was GO TIME for penguin feet!  Lesson learned.  Bending 12-gauge insulated wire with petite jewelry-making tools is like mixing chocolate chip cookie dough with a fork—doable, but irritating.  As a result, my bird has out of proportion ankles.  But nonetheless, they work!  The armature of the feet is genius: the feet are essentially a giant bobby-pin and the bend extends up into the bird’s neck area.  This design allows for great balance of the bird, and I suspect if I’d used Abby’s recommended stuffing, the bird would perch even more easily, due to solidly packed wool stuffing and the overall weight of the wool.

The only real divergence I made in this penguin was a bit of fun fabric on the inside of the wings.  I’ve had this Route 66 road sign fabric for a while, and it wasn’t until I cut it out that I spied the “I Love Lucy” ® heart that was scattered into the pattern. (“Lucy’s Hollywood at Last” by Quilting Treasures).  This penguin is headed to a new home soon, where she’ll be greeted by a host of smaller penguins that protect a stretch of woodwork in our Auntie’s home.  I’ve been promised that all penguins are welcome in Sacramento, and I’ll get to visit Lucy on occasion.

DSC_4820 copy

I think The Artful Bird is for an intermediate sewist who has experience with following patterns, a sewist who has patience for smaller pieces, a bird lover who can commit to a detailed craft, or anyone who wants the tools to craft their own favorite bird.  Trying one of Abby’s patterns will dramatically increase your confidence in making a fabric sculpture of any kind, especially one that requires an armature for support.  All that said, Abby’s chapter on Birdmaking Techniques is really superb, and will surely guide an intrepid beginning sewist through to bird completion.

DSC_4825 copy

Abby writes regularly at whileshenaps.com.  Every Wednesday she releases a podcast about crafting, sewing, and the business of a creative life.  My favorite is her chat with Ann Wood, who makes sculptural fabric owls and ships and other woodland curiosities.   Abby is very transparent about her craft business, which is refreshing and unbelievably helpful in these competitive waters.  And she is honest about the joy and pain of writing, creating, and publishing a book.

Thank you, Abby Glassenberg, for sharing the tools to help me create my own artful aviary, to encourage ignorance of fabric grain, and to be so willing to discuss the business of crafting in a intelligent, exciting, and transparent way.

 

PS: It’s midsummer, and I’m going to press pause on artcraftnarrative.com until my kids are back in school.  Please come back in August for my report from ALA Las Vegas (upcoming craft & creativity books!), more craft projects (grey denim owls!), and book reviews.

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Collaborative Crafting for Bibliophiles.

Do you remember receiving your first library card? I wish I still had my card in possession, but I remember it distinctly. It had a wobbly signature, and was hand-laminated by a bi-focaled librarian from America’s first publicly funded library: Scoville Memorial in Salisbury, Connecticut. The library façade is granite mined from a nearby quarry, and from the walk, it resembles a small chateau. And inside it smells like a library. Papery and cool, even on the most humid summer day. I’ve since held many other library cards from other towns, colleges, and cities. And while I think it is still a choice pleasure to browse the stacks of a library, losing hours to that 90 degree head-tilt to read the spines, I absolutely love the ease and efficiency of the “request” system. This ability to create succulent reading lists online and have them delivered to my local branch was the difference between my sanity and an existence I’d rather not acknowledge during those early, frazzled days of motherhood. The library has saved me countless times in my life. So it is with the chiefest pleasure that I offer up my review BiblioCraft, a book that marries my two favorite occupations: libraries and making.

Pigza, Jessica.Bibliocraft
BiblioCraft:
A Modern Crafter’s Guide to Using Library Resources to Jumpstart Creative Projects.
Illustrated. 207pp. STC Craft/A Melanie Falick Book, 2014. $27.50
ISBN-10: 1617690961
ISBN-13: 978-1617690969
745.5—P629b

Written by NYPL rare book librarian and avid crafter Jessica Pigza, BiblioCraft is a tremendous collaboration between a librarian and a crew of artists and crafters.  The range of source material for the body of projects is completely diverse.  This book makes me want to marbleize paper, embroider cartouches, and explore every library in my day-tripping radius.  Jessica provides personal and useful commentary on the partnership of librarian and visiting bibliophile/artist.  There are chapters on research libraries and the nature of special collections, finding the right library, planning your visit, and using the cataloging system.  Jessica includes a copyright primer where there are some guidelines and many resources.  There is a list of digital libraries to reference, and recommended library collections—helpful for planning your next getaway to, say, The American Craft Council Library in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Or the National Library of the Netherlands, in The Hague, for an exhibit on the history of decorated papers.  Curious?  I was.  Here’s the link: http://www.kb.nl/en/web-exhibitions/decorated-paper.  I completely appreciate the window into a far-flung library.

The 20+ projects included in Bibliocraft traverse stitching, sewing, embroidering, paper cutting, and stenciling a host of home décor projects.  The ideas are all beautifully conceived, with full back-story on each artist’s source point.  For example, the marbled fabric pouch made by Jodi Kahn was inspired by the historical marbled end papers found in old volumes.   A delicately quilled willow pendant designed by Ann Martin sprang from the gilt blossoms and leaves of a book cover.   Each project features a designer who worked with Jessica to find precisely the source material needed to propel the idea into fruition.  There is a narrative about the craft, and its history, as well as the story of how the historical document converged with modern craft designer.  I love reading about this process.

All the projects offer a full set of instructions and templates to complete each craft.  Some projects offer ideas on how to take the project further or alter to your taste.  Jessica, ever the librarian, instills more knowledge about each subject and suggests further readings and subject headings.  There are so many possibilities in this book; I want to make everything.

Pigza quotes

The above quote in the teal spot isn’t from Jessica’s book, but it is a favorite.  Prompted by Jessica’s quote about a wish list, I spent half an afternoon dreaming up wish list topics and things that fascinate me.  Here’s my short-list:

wish list

Bibliocraft is a book all artists and crafters will want to own.  My copy is borrowed, fittingly, but I plan to purchase it for its wealth of references, in addition to great project ideas.  Some of my favorite projects from the book include Jessica’s dogwood blossoms (great for attaching to packages), Grace Bonney’s antiquarian animal votive holders (I need a set: tiger, bear, koala or owl, lion, and maybe a snail), Sarah Goldschadt’s paper towns (I want to make tall, skinny, ornate row houses from the waterways of Amsterdam!)  And Rebecca Ringquist’s cartouche embroidery.  She used an old map cartouche as inspiration for a quilt label.  I have seen entire wall displays filled with hoop art.  I currently have twelve empty embroidery hoops of varying sizes.  I’m thinking about ampersands and arrows, initials, and a family crest.  There might be some mixed media embroidery since I love to sew paper to fabric.  Oh, the possibilities!  My library field trip is scheduled! Phase one: completed!  Phase two: bring copy card, wish list, ear plugs, and rations.

Read more about Jessica’s adventures in making at handmadelibrarian.com.  Also, she writes on NYPL’s blog about events, crafting, and Crafternoons at http://www.nypl.org/blog/author/jessica-pigza.

Thanks, Jessica Pigza, for researching, writing, and crafting a book that makes me want to befriend a librarian and hole up in the rare book corral at SFPL’s Main Library, then come home and turn old tea cup markings into embroidered wall hangings.

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purposeful crafting.

I love a flea market.  Used book sales.  Thrift stores.  And most especially, my local reuse center SCRAP.  We also have the grand dame of Northern California antique fairs at Alameda Point (first Sunday of the month).  Even if I’m making something with new supplies, I often add in a bit of old paper.  I feel like it anchors the piece in a wholly different time.  I also have crates of old books, vintage notions, and chipped plates all just waiting for divine inspiration.  Enter Blair Stocker’s new book, Wise Craft.

 

Stocker, Blair.

Wise Craft:Wise Craft front panel

Turning Thrift Store Finds, Fabric Scraps, and Natural Objects into Stuff You Love.

184pp.  Running Press, 2014. $20.

ISBN-10: 0762449691

ISBN-13: 978-0762449699

DDC 745.5

This soft-bound volume is jam-packed with ideas on resuscitating old things.  Its’ cover brings handicraft right into modern: embossed title cut from fabric and scraps, subtitle in a cursive chalk, author’s name on a garment label.  There are several tutorials simply illustrated by Lisa Congdon.  The book is well-indexed, and has a host of templates to help you complete the projects as seen.  Blair also recommends a crafter’s toolkit.  It’s a curated list that many people should have no trouble rounding up.  The book is arranged by season, though many projects could overlap.  I relish when cookbooks organize by season, and I can see why Blair takes this approach as we all go through seasons of creativity and making distinctly related to weather, light, and materials.

I find that the process of creating something new from a tired or neglected item makes it feel more special, more intentional.  I am not militantly “green” or obsessed with thrift.  I just find that creating original pieces from gathered goods gives me a more personal connection to my surroundings and environment.  It establishes a sense of value: of place, of family, of personal history.                          -Blair Stocker

Each of the 60 projects begins with a brief, but personal description; I enjoy knowing why and how a person was inspired to make something.  Some of Blair’s projects are very simple and easy for the new-to-crafting type.  This might be frustrating for the more seasoned DIY-er, but I prefer to see these seeds as starting points: how can I make that silhouette leather coaster more interesting for me (who loves to emboss/stitch leather).  The book is appropriate for all level of crafter.

Spring for Blair means cleaning and tidying, and the inspiration to make new things.  This chapter has home décor items like personalized statement dishes—easily accomplished with the right china marker, and a recycled flower mirror (the mirror frame has been embellished with soft fibers and felts cut into leaves and blossoms) that has me wracking my brain to remember where I tucked away those old sweaters I was saving for something special.  She made a series of glittered art wall pieces that features the Stocker Family made-up words.  I instantly thought of a short-list of words and phrases that would look great in glitterati for our house.

Summer, in the words of Blair, “is the peak season for garage sales.”  And when I saw her woven chair back, I was awed.  There are so many times when I pass up rattan or caned chairs because I’m slightly intimidated by the brittle material.  But this chair boasts a fresh seat and colorful woven backrest.  When I recently walked through Salvation Army, I heavily contemplated a gorgeous old chair with an upholstered seat, and a weathered rattan back.  I need to go back; I’m committed to trying something similar.

Fall is my favorite season–aside from that one holiday ALL arachnophobes loathe, therefore I do not decorate with webs or plastic creepies.  I stick to owls and ravens, pumpkins and bats.  So Blair’s spooky dishes are perfect for me.  Sweet, vintage plates with a seasonal surprise.  Even a drawing from a child—a mean pumpkin face or a grimacing candy corn—can be scanned and decaled onto a thrifted piece of china.   Also, the book features a tabletop garden that, even though it is spring right now, makes me want to renovate my current terrarium with rocks, sticks and driftwood.  It features three lonely succulents.  I tried to cajole my boys into a nature walk/treasure hunt for the purpose of terrarium adornments.  I have two sticks to show for it.  To be fair, they did present me with two stolen flower heads—one with a missing petal, and a feather that was supremely battered.  The flowers died by bedtime, and the feather is missing in action.  I think another walk is in order, but for now it looks like this:

terrarium

Another classic project from the book is the miniature faux taxidermy mounted in deep shadowboxes.  I adore shadowboxes.  The hard part is editing what goes into them, and this project has inspired me to keep it simple.  Blair’s shadowbox trio features a single, perched, plumed bird—fake, of course—and a simple, scripted label which is an opportunity to practice your calligraphy or old-school cursive.  Maybe even ask your fourth-grader to pen it out for you.  Where am I at with this project? I have three shadowbox candidates.  I have sticks and dowels for perches.  But I do not have acceptable faux birds.  And even though I’m inspired by Blair’s simple, vintage birds, I haven’t found any remotely natural-looking.  I got lost in an internet rabbit-hole searching for fabric bird tutorials.  And I now have two books on bird-making headed in my direction.

While this book has jump-started several ideas and 50% complete projects, I do have one start-to-finish to share: the bead-bombed tote bag.  Blair made hers from a woebegone tablecloth.  I used a piece of vintage fabric that I’ve been saving for twenty years.  Twenty.  I am so glad to have put this piece of fabric to use!  Further, I live in San Francisco, where reusable bags are a requirement for all shopping (or pay a bag fee, and live with the scrutiny).  I have many bags for the grocery shopping, but I like to have separate ones for the library or new sweaters.  Enter this tote.  I followed Blair’s instructions from start to finish.  I think this is a note-worthy comment since I usually see a picture, and try to wing it.  But, for the purpose of this review, the instructions are clearly written, and yield a great, sturdy tote.  Mine is lined with a medium weight canvas (per instructions) that should support a load from the library, or a long day at the flea market.  In the spirit of making it mine, I added a simple pocket, off-centered for  right-hand wear, for keys and phone.  I started a small patch of beading on the reverse side.  It adds a bit of interest to the old fabric.  I am not sure how it will wear.  I considered sewing the beads in place, but for now, the fabric glue is completely invisible, and the beads are staying put!

beaded tote  bloom for wisecraft

Like the rest of us artists and makers, winter is a scramble to create holiday gifts, décor, cards, and treats, and if you live in reach of polar vortexes, major efforts to stay cozy.  Thus many of Blair’s winter projects are of the felted and fleeced variety.  My favorite from this chapter is a remix of the spring flower mirror, simplified into a single bloom brooch.  (I added one spring-like flower to the strap/bag intersection of my tote!)  This is the perfect, speedy gift for teachers and cousins. It would be a beautiful gift embellishment, or grace a bottle of wine or craft beer.  Or make a collection for your caroling group.  The thing I love most about this idea is that I’m thinking about it NOW, in May.  So I can spend the next few weeks hunting for tartans and plaids when no one else cares.  I feel ahead of the holidays already!

You can find Blair in all her handmade glory at: http://blairstocker.com/

Thanks, Blair Stocker, for crafting a book that presses into service all those special cast-offs I’ve been saving for just the right project.

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